August 5, 2005

Pat Aguilar fighting to preserve Chula Vista’s character

By Kelley Dupuis

Those who know Patricia Aguilar know her to be easygoing, soft-spoken... and absolutely determined to preserve the character of Chula Vista as she knows it, and cherishes it.

What they might not know is that Aguilar’s passion is firmly grounded in her own education. She is currently an investment advisor. However holds an M.A. degree in architecture and urban planning from UCLA. Although she never worked as an architect, she spent 15 years as director of planning at UCSD.

In other words, Aguilar is no stranger to that for which she campaigns with such vigor.

She will be the first to tell you that her educational background is key to her interest in how the Chula Vista develops in years to come. She is currently serving as president of Crossroads II, a grassroots group in the community whose mission is to see that whatever the city’s explosive growth does, it does not compromise the character of the city.

“I think the bureaucracy got to me,” she said of her years at UCSD, an experience that might have carried a hint of her future experiences with the City of Chula Vista. In any case, she struck out on her own in the early 1990s and studied to become a financial advisor.

It was during her time at UCSD that she met her husband Nick Aguilar, who today serves on the San Diego County School Board.

But it was when the Aguilars moved to the Rancho del Rey area off East H Street, around 1990, that Patricia Aguilar got her first chance to spar with the city over land use.

“This was before Costco was out there,” she said. “It was all vacant land. The city had zoned that area for a business park. But then out of the blue, I got a notice that the city wanted to change the zoning to allow an auto park there.”

Aguilar and her neighbors had no problem with the idea of sharing their neighborhood with a business park, but they didn’t want people taking used cars for test drives where they lived. So they met with the city council and persuaded it to allow retailers in the area, but not to turn it into Chula Vista’s version of the Mile of Cars.

It was only the beginning. For a time, it seemed that wherever the Aguilars moved, Patricia would end up in the middle of a land-use controversy.

“Several years later, we moved to where we’re living now, near Southwestern College,” she said. “I signed up to serve as a member of the design review committee. At one meeting we heard a proposal from a developer to build a shopping center at Southwestern College.”

It was at that meeting that Aguilar met activist Tom Davis, who had turned out to protest the shopping center. The two would often make common cause in the future.

“[Tom] didn’t think it was right for Southwestern College to be building a shopping center,” Aguilar said. “I agreed with him. After the meeting I tracked him down and, with some other people, we started looking into it. We were successful – the project went away.”

At about the same time, Aguilar discovered a small group of like-minded people in the community, including Peter and Susan Watry, Lupita Jimenez, Sharon Floyd and a handful of others, who were busy fighting the city’s plan to locate its new police station in Friendship Park, adjacent to the Civic Center library.

“Lupita was in touch with both groups, and suggested that we combine our forces,” Aguilar said. Shortly after, the group met at the house for the late Will Hyde, former mayor of Chula Vista and one of the founders of a group calling itself Crossroads, which had sprung to life in the 1980s over similar issues. Chula Vista was aggressively annexing land east of Interstate 805 in those days, and Crossroads had expressed concern about how all of that annexing and building would affect the quality of life.

Crossroads had gone into dormancy in the 1990s. But at that meeting at Hyde’s house, in January, 2003, the newly-created grassroots group decided it couldn’t think of a better name for itself than Crossroads II. Crossroads II would be a citywide group focusing its attention on development.

Some in the city see Crossroads II as anti-development. Aguilar says it isn’t so.

“We’re okay with development,” Aguilar said. “But what Crossroads I was successful at was producing the city’s Growth Management Plan. The plan has been very effective. It allowed development to continue, but what you see when you drive on the east side is all these nice communities with beautiful parks and lots of green space. The cost is laid on developers and then passed on to buyers of new homes. It’s not put on the backs of people who are already here.”

New days, new fights: Crossroads II, with Aguilar at its head, is currently in the thick of things over two large-scale projects on the city’s plate: the development of the 550-acre Bayfront, and a prospective 200-condominium development on H Street, developer Jim Pieri’s “Espanada” project.

Crossroads II’s positions on the two projects can be summed up in just a few words: the Bayfront: keep residential properties to a minimum. Espanada: cut it down to size.

Espanada is currently on hold until the city completes an update of its general plan, expected this fall. Aguilar sees her next battle – and Crossroads’ – as lying in whatever height-limit provisions. Pieri would like to build two 15- story towers for his condo project. Aguilar is adamant: seven stories is high enough for downtown Chula Vista, and she wants to see no more than that.

“The GPU still allows areas of the city where unlimited building heights are allowed,” she said. “We think that’s just not consistent with the character of Chula Vista. The city’s own consultant and its own Environmental Impact report say that.”

As for the Bayfront, Aguilar says she wants to see it as a place where the public feels welcome to come. And if it’s overrun with office parks and condominiums, the public, she feels, won’t be very much inclined to visit the Bayfront or use it.

She wants to see shops, parks, hotels and restaurants on the Bayfront. She would like to see no more than 1,500 condominiums.

“If I’m in Eastlake and there’s a whole bunch of condos on the Bayfront, why should I go there?” she said. “People don’t go to see condos and office parks. Condos and office parks will privatize the Bayfront so that no one who doesn’t live or work there will want to go there.”

Pacifica, the developer which is seeking to build residential properties on the Bayfront, has reportedly requested to build 2,900. The city, in its EIR, may scale it back to 2,400.

So many condos, as Aguilar sees it, would create issues not just with the privatization of the Bayfront, but with traffic.

“The developer said they would not create a gated community on the Bayfront,” Aguilar said. “But if you’re living on the Bayfront, where would you go to shop? You have to get in your car and drive somewhere.”

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